Feed me, feed you – how to set up your own news syndication service

I’ve made frequent mention on this blog of ‘my feeds’. By this, I’m referring to the four RSS features in the right-hand column on this page – imaginatively and wittily entitled ‘The PR Pros Proclaim’, ‘The Journalists Retort’, ‘The Writers Mumble’ (for that is what they do) and ‘The Geeks Speak’.

Now, I don’t actually manually put the links into these features myself. The reason I call them ‘my feeds’ is that they’re feeds aggregated through Google Reader. I have a list of several blogs that I gather together under one tag, then syndicate the feed from that tag out to this blog (and, incidentally, anyone else who wants it). So, feeds in, tag out.

It’s a seriously clever feature and one that underpins the blog project I’m running at work, whereby I’ve assigned feeds to members of my team, who then pick out items of interest. So we share the task of news gathering and I’m the syndication point for that sharing. I can monitor their feeds and move them around, and all they see at their end is one feed syndicated from me. It’s a tremendously effective way of running your own news syndication service and one that will gain you the reputation in your company for having powers of sorcery.

The other really clever bit to all this, and one that still impresses me, is how you can also use Google News, Yahoo News and the Google Blog Search as part of this aggregation. Go to any of these services and type in your search terms – including the really useful ‘intitle’ parameter for Google – then when your results are displayed, simply subscribe to them. Yes, that’s right – these search features also generate feeds. So you’ve effectively set up your own news search agents that are going out onto the web, gathering the information you want, and pushing it back to you. Then you just gather that up into a tag alongside your other subscriptions and syndicate it out. (You can also do this with Technorati but I found it to be riddled with blog advertisments).

The third useful bit, and one I still haven’t exploited to the full yet, is Feedburner. This takes your ‘raw’ feed, in my case from Google Reader, and adds all sorts of fancypants stuff to it. I haven’t really looked into exactly what I can do with this yet but I’m sure I’ll get around to it sometime.

This is so incredibly useful that if it didn’t already exist you would have to invent it. It’s as if someone who really needed to keep up to date on specific areas of news – PR practitioners, journalists, comms in general – had said to a tecchie “What I really need is something that will go out and get the news I want, present it to me in a clear format, allow me to pass it on readily to other people and be available wherever I am. Oh, and I don’t want to pay for it.” If/when vertical search engines gather pace this will become even more powerful.

The only drawback to all this is trying to convince colleagues of its importance. Despite me repeatedly telling them it’ll take a maximum of five minutes to sign up to Google and set up the reader – or any other aggregator come to that – and that from then on it will be the virtual equivalent of going through the newspaper headlines each morning but much more quickly and effectively, they still don’t seem to quite get it. Perhaps readers of this blog will.

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